In early 2017, Catholic leaders brokered an agreement allowing the president to lead a transitional government until the end of that year, when he was to step down and elections were to be held.
The election never happened — a vote is are now scheduled for the end of this year — and Mr. Kabila retains power, which most observers believe he will try to keep.
In the past week, 100 civil society groups signed a joint letter supporting the march, and Protestant and Muslim leaders have joined their Catholic counterparts in open, if veiled, criticism of Mr. Kabila’s prolonged presidency. In a sermon to mark the anniversary of the death of Mr. Kabila’s father, former President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a prominent religious figure framed the criticism in sporting terms.
“I like athletics,” the Rev. François-David Ekofo said in remarks broadcast live on national television. “I especially like a race — a relay race, where a person passes a baton to the second person, to the third person, to the fourth person.”
“In the history of a country, it is the same,” he added at the service, attended by Mr. Kabila’s wife and children, and by influential political figures.
Mr. Ekofo then went further, saying that the nation’s laws had generally not been respected, and that he believed the state — unable to meet its citizens’ basic needs despite an abundance of resources — no longer exists.
The country’s top Muslim leader, Sheikh Ali Mwinyi N’kuu, told a local news website, “If you have made a commitment to God and to men, you must know how to respect him.”
The sheikh stopped short of endorsing the protests on Sunday but said he would not oppose them because the Constitution guaranteed the right to demonstrate. “We cannot in any way agree to trample the Constitution if it is peaceful,” he said.
The local authorities did not authorize the march, setting the stage for a repeat of the December standoff. Clément Bafiba Zomba, the vice governor of Kinshasa, said a second demonstration could “distort” the outcome of a police investigation into the first. He also scolded organizers for declining his invitation to discuss the matter, according to a letter seen by The New York Times.
One of the organizers said the group feared arrest if they accepted the invitation; a senior police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak on the matter, confirmed to The New York Times that an arrest warrant for five organizers, including three named in the letter, had been issued but had not been executed.
Six priests were arrested during the December protest, according to the Kinshasa nunciate, the Vatican’s equivalent of an embassy. More than 100 churches were surrounded by security forces during or after Mass, and the police fired tear gas at 10 parishes. Officers openly beat people in the streets.
Jean-Baudoin Mayo, the leader of the opposition party Union for the Congolese Nation, said a member of the party had been killed on Sunday by police gunfire in Lembe, a Kinshasa neighborhood. Paul Nsapu, secretary general for Africa at the International Federation for Human Rights in Paris, said he had received reports of another death, also in Kinshasa.
In the east of the country, in Goma, several others were wounded by gunfire when they tried to leave St. Joseph’s Cathedral, according to Bienvenu Matumo, a member of Lucha, a national group that has been pushing for elections.
Security officers surrounded the church and fired tear gas into the sanctuary, where most worshipers remained trapped, Mr. Matumo said. Six people were arrested, he added.
Mr. Matumo said that demonstrators, mostly Lucha members, had been tear-gassed and arrested in Beni, another major city in eastern Congo. In Beni and in Goma, he said, the turnout on Sunday was lower than at demonstrations last month.
Some security officials appeared to be more lenient, however. Video shared with The New York Times showed several hundred demonstrators in Mbiza Ozone, a neighborhood in western Kinshasa, marching and singing as a police officer and a soldier, both armed with military rifles, watched impassively.
Mr. Kabila’s chief of staff, Néhémie Mwilanya, sent a letter on Friday to the head of the national police urging officers to respect human rights during the marches, according to the senior police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
But the Kinshasa police commander, Sylvano Kasongo Kitenge, issued a statement on the eve of the demonstrations that made clear the authorities would be taking a hard line. “It goes without saying that no action or attempt to disturb public order will be tolerated throughout the entire city-province of Kinshasa,” he said.